Senate Judiciary approves bill regulating kratom, other cannabinoids

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Judiciary Committee quickly approved a bill Thursday afternoon to regulate the marketing of kratom and delta-8 THC.

SB 220 covers the processing, distribution and sale of kratom and hemp-derived cannabinoids; delta-8 and its cousin delta-9 THC are both hemp derivatives.

The bill places the regulation of the products under the Department of Agriculture and limits the sale to those age 21 and up. Sales are subject to a 15% excise tax.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is authorized to assist Agriculture in enforcement. Unapproved products are considered contraband subject to seizure and destruction. There are criminal penalties to unlawful possession, distribution and sales, and for sales to underage customers.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement says kratom is derived from leaves of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. At low doses, kratom produces stimulant effects with users reporting increased alertness, physical energy, and talkativeness. At high doses, users experience sedative effects. Kratom consumption can lead to addiction.

It is mostly abused by oral ingestion in the form of a tablet, capsule, or extract. Kratom leaves may also be dried or powdered and ingested as a tea, or the kratom leaf may be chewed. DEA has listed kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern.

The Mayo Clinic says the liquid form is often marketed as a treatment for muscle pain, or to suppress appetite and stop cramps and diarrhea, and as a treatment for panic attacks. Kratom is believed to act on opioid receptors. Some people take kratom to avoid the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and because kratom may be bought more easily than prescription drugs.

Mayo Clinic calls kratom “unsafe and ineffective.” One problem is the amount of active ingredient in kratom plants can vary greatly, making it difficult to gauge the effect of a given dose. Depending on what is in the plant and the health of the user, taking kratom may be very dangerous.

Regarding delta-8 THC, the FDA says some concerns include variability in product formulations and product labeling, other cannabinoid and terpene content, and variable delta-8 THC concentrations. Some products may be labeled simply as hemp products, which may mislead consumers who associate hemp with non-psychoactive.

The New York Times reports that according to one recent study, 16 percent of regular marijuana users also use delta-8. It reportedly produces a gentler and legal high that offers relaxation and pain relief without the anxiety or fuzzy-headedness of marijuana. But the CDC and FDA warn that it’s a potentially dangerous drug that’s resulted in thousands of accidental poisonings.

The Times reports that the most common form of THC in cannabis plants is delta-9-THC, which is almost identical to delta-8-THC in its chemical structure. The molecules’ similarity means that delta-8 and delta-9 act very similarly in the body. They both bind to the same receptors in the brain but delta-8 is less potent.

After hearing the committee counsel describe the bill – a committee substitute different from the introduced version – Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, cut off debate by calling the question, which the other members voted to support. His reasoning was unclear: he had been absent from his seat for the last portion of the prior bill and by that the meeting had run more than two hours.

So it passed in a voice vote with no discussion and heads to the full Senate.

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